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Nuclear Power Payments Haunt Sununu : Reports Question Seabrook Operator’s Role in New Hampshire

The Washington Post

When White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu was governor of New Hampshire, his Administration used funds provided by the operator of the Seabrook nuclear power plant to pay half of a top Sununu aide’s salary and the salaries or consulting fees of several other Republicans.

This disclosure, in the Boston Globe and Concord Monitor newspapers, has provoked criticism from opponents of the Seabrook facility and from New Hampshire Democrats. Robert A. Backus, a lawyer and longtime Seabrook opponent, has charged that the funds were used as “a feeding trough for the politically well-connected in New Hampshire.”

Sununu, a strong supporter of Seabrook, and state officials have defended the payments as mandated by a New Hampshire law that requires the state to charge the operators of nuclear power plants for the cost of developing emergency response, or evacuation plans to be used in the event of a nuclear accident.

Wrote Evacuation Plan

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Current and former New Hampshire officials said state employees and consultants who had all or part of their salaries paid by Seabrook’s operator helped develop the state’s Seabrook emergency response plan.

One of those involved was David M. Carney, Sununu’s deputy chief of staff while he was governor. Half of Carney’s $43,000-a-year state salary was paid with funds from Seabrook’s operator, New Hampshire Yankee, which runs the Seabrook plant for the 12 utility companies that own it.

State officials confirmed that the governor’s Office of Emergency Management, the state agency responsible for the Seabrook emergency response plan, also used funds from New Hampshire Yankee to pay four other Republicans who worked on the plan: Two lawyers hired as consultants, a state representative and a longtime Republican Party activist.

Over the last five years, the governor’s Office of Emergency Management has received $6 million from New Hampshire Yankee--about $1.2 million a year--to develop the emergency response plan, according to John Gifford, the agency’s spokesman. Last year, Gifford said, the office’s entire budget was $3.1 million.

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Snag in Licensing

An emergency response plan must be submitted before a nuclear plant can be licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Opponents of nuclear power have complained that the New Hampshire and Massachusetts emergency response plans for the Seabrook plant are inadequate, an objection that has caused long delays in licensing the facility. The NRC has conditionally approved the New Hampshire plan, and a decision on the Massachusetts plan is expected later this year.

Carney, now deputy director of the White House office of political affairs, said he spent more than half of his time developing the state’s emergency response plan for Seabrook, and state officials agreed. The utility paid half of Carney’s state salary between 1985 and 1989.

Carney said he kept no record of how he spent his time, however, and Seabrook opponents and Democrats in the state said they find it hard to believe he spent so much of it on the Seabrook plan.

“He was the governor’s political person,” state Rep. Mary Chambers, Democratic minority leader, said. Chambers said that she and other legislators had no idea that half of Carney’s salary was coming from the Seabrook operator.

During a news briefing Monday in Kennebunkport, Me., where President Bush is vacationing, Sununu said: “Every single billing was done by the spirit and the letter of the law.”


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